By Arab News
By Najia Houssari
The Lebanese judge investigating the Beirut port disaster last year said on Friday he would move to prosecute the country’s outgoing prime minister, Hassan Diab, and that he had taken steps toward indicting several other former ministers, security officials and members of the judiciary.
Around 3,000 of tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded on Aug. 4, 2020, killing over 120 people, injuring more than 6,000 and ravaging swathes of the capital, in the midst of the coronavirus disease pandemic and a crippling financial crisis, causing the spotlight to fall on systemic corruption and mismanagement across all levels of Lebanon’s ruling class.
Judge Tariq Bitar began launching prosecutions on Friday, having taken evidence from witnesses for several months.
As well as Diab, who has been summoned for preliminary questioning by Bitar, former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former Minister of Defense and Public Works Ghazi Zaiter, former Interior Minister Nouhad Al-Mashnouq and Yusef Fenianos, the former transport and public works minister, are also set to face charges, with the judge formally requesting, through the Office of the Special Public Prosecutor, that their immunity from prosecution be lifted.
A separate request will also be made to the Beirut Bar Association concerning Khalil and Zaiter, and to the Tripoli Bar Association concerning Fenianos, regarding their immunity as members of the respective legal bodies.
Bitar’s predecessor, Fadi Sawan, was removed from his post last year following complaints having also moved against Khali, Zaiter and Fenianos.
In addition to the ministers, Bitar will also seek permission to question the director-general of the Lebanese General Security Directorate, Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, and the head of State Security, Maj. Gen. Tony Saliba.
Bitar also filed charges against retired Gen. Jean Kahwaji, a former army commander, and the former head of military intelligence, Brig. Gen. Kameel Daher, in addition to two other retired intelligence generals, Ghassan Gharzeddin and Jawdat Oueidat, and several as yet unnamed members of the Lebanese judiciary.
A judicial source told Arab News that after the interrogations of the politicians, security chiefs and judges, the prosecution will present its review of the case, giving the Bar Association a month to give its approval to lifting the immunity.
The source ruled out that formal charges would be issued by the end of this year, adding that the claim made by Bitar was based on Article 189 of the country’s penal code, which states “possible criminal intent.”
Caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi announced his intention to “grant permission to prosecute Maj. Gen. Ibrahim.”